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The Nudge That Spilt The Spleen

Suddenly, India is being seen as a nasty by the Maoists who had deemed it a friend

The Nudge That Spilt The Spleen
The Nudge That Spilt The Spleen
The day after Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal, or Prachanda, resigned as prime minister, his party organ, the Janadesh daily, published a cartoon showing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh carrying on his shoulder Nepalese President Rambaran Yadav. It was captioned "Hamara Bharat Mahan", succinctly conveying the Maoist line: Yadav had overruled Prachanda’s decision to dismiss army chief, Gen Rookmangad Katawal, at India’s behest. For long, Prachanda had wanted the general sacked as he wasn’t amenable to civilian control.

Maoists believe Yadav’s audacity sprang from New Delhi’s tacit support. Prachanda said as much: "We will not bow before any outside force. What the president did was not only unconstitutional, but a mockery of the principle of civilian supremacy." His trusted lieutenant, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, didn’t shy away from naming the outside force: "It all happened because of India’s blatant interference."

Overnight, the country that had played a crucial role in bringing the Maoists closer to pro-democracy parties through a 12-point agreement was cast as a villain. And the villain was given the face of Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood, who had been persistently telling Prachanda to not sack Katawal—the man who aborted the CPN-M’s plan to induct 19,000-odd former Maoist combatants into the army. Katawal had repeatedly stressed that the army didn’t favour politically indoctrinated soldiers nor wanted to dilute prescribed qualifications for recruiting Maoist combatants.

Katawal then took the precipitous step—he recruited 3,000 jawans against vacancies and, invoking past rules, extended the tenure of eight brigadier-generals for another three years, stymying the possibility of Prachanda showing favours to officers whose support he could bank on in future. Stung, Prachanda issued a show-cause notice to Katawal, asking him to explain his flouting of the principle of civilian supremacy. He also openly said he’d replace Katawal with Lt Gen K.B. Khadka.

It’s then that Sood, the Indian ambassador, stepped in. Sources say Sood met Prachanda four times, warning that "India’s support" for the dismissal of Gen Katawal "shouldn’t be taken for granted". The all-powerful central secretariat of the CPN-M held an emergency meeting and advised Prachanda to inform the nation through Parliament about India’s interference in Nepal. But Prachanda desisted.

Sood’s interference was in continuity with what his predecessor, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, did. As a former Nepalese prime minister said, "Mukherjee would meet major leaders and advise them that if the interim Parliament was to sack the king and abolish the monarchy even before the Constituent Assembly election, he would get India’s endorsement within half an hour. No doubt, the king was unpopular, but such advice from a friendly country’s ambassador was certainly in bad taste." In the new political mood, what was stomached earlier is now being opposed by the Maoists.

Not only has India’s perceived brazenness been criticised, China is likely to exploit this sentiment. And though the Maoist-army row compelled Prachanda to cancel his Beijing visit, the fact that he was to sign a new treaty of peace and friendship with China would have effectively placed its interest in Nepal on par with India. This should worry New Delhi. Maoist resurgence could see them play the China card to counter India.

The Maoists are likely to harp on India’s interference to bolster and expand their support base. This was precisely why India was muted in its response to Prachanda’s resignation, dubbing it as an "internal matter" of Nepal. But this hasn’t appeased the Maoists. Bhattarai has demanded Yadav’s resignation for reinstating the sacked army chief in an exercise of power that "came not from the constitution but from India". He said, "We will not let the House run unless he resigns, or else we will move an impeachment motion." It’s possible India could, once again, become the big bad boy in Nepal, whipped to garner votes and acquire power.

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